Breaking the Springs

In 1944, the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery was flying reconnaissance missions with the Free French forces. He was also working on what would be his last book: the philosophical musings of the fictional ruler of a fictional desert kingdom. St-Ex was killed in action before he got the chance to finalize the manuscript, but it was published as Citadelle in French and under the somewhat unfortunate name Wisdom of the Sands in English.

In one passage, the ruler muses that the criminal who has been sentenced to death may well contain an inward beauty of some form…but goes on to justify his execution:

For by his death I stiffen springs which must not be permitted to relax.

I thought about this passage when I heard about the decision of the Scottish authorities to release the Lockerbie bomber Al Megrahi, who has now received a hero’s welcome in his native Libya.

NeoNeocon quotes Geoffrey Robertson:

His release, in order that the criminal state which approved his crime may celebrate it and so justify its criminal actions (which include provision of semtex for many IRA atrocities as well as training terrorists for worldwide barbarities and the assassination of Gaddafi’s opponents at home and abroad, and in several cases in England), is a sad day for humanity and for the struggle for global justice. We should be ashamed that this has happened.

Why was Al Megrahi released? The official reason was “humanitarianism.” Two other factors may well have played a part: business relationships, and Scottish nationalism (taking the form of we-don’t-care-what-anyone-else-thinks-we’re-going-to-do-what-we-want.)

Whatever the reasons, Al Megrahi’s release has the opposite effect from stiffening “the springs which must not be permitted to relax.” Indeed, it is so egregious that it practically breaks those springs in two. There can be little doubt that such a projection of Western weakness is an encouragement to future acts of terrorism.

(See also Soeren Kern and Claudia Rosett.)

The Obama administration has been critical of the release and the hero’s welcome…in tones of soaring oratory, President Obama said:

I think it was highly objectionable.

…this referring, I believe, to the welcome rather than to the release itself. (Apparently Obama had earlier “warned” Colonel Gadhafi “not to give him a hero’s welcome.”) A State Department spokesman said:

…he would not say that “single event at an airport” will cause the U.S. to “totally reconsider our relationship with Libya, but we will be watching as they go forward how this man is treated.”

So much for the cost to Gadhafi of ignoring an Obama “warning.”

As this post points out, the Obama administration itself has released or offered relatively light sentences to terrorists who most rational people would have preferred to see imprisoned for life, or even executed.

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime has repaid Obama’s diplomatic initiatives–and his recognition of them as the “elected government” of that country–and his apologies for the United States–by appointing, as its Defense Minister, a man wanted by Interpol in connection with the 1994 bombing of a synogogue in Argentina–a bombing that killed 85 people.

Weakness and submissiveness invite contempt and attack.

15 thoughts on “Breaking the Springs”

  1. The war on terror has severely depleted the number of terrorists running wild. Like true sportsmen, Obama and other liberals are simply restocking the world with terrorists. Now we no longer have to go the Afganistan. We can hunt them from our front porches. The liberals have made it more interesting because they have outlawed fire arms.

  2. The original error, by the Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations (Carter would have done the same), was to treat the bombing as criminal rather than an act of war. Obama’s behavior is within that tradition, though at an extreme of craven willfulness. What’s amazing is how clear-sighted the early Bush Jr. was. Unfortunately for us, he was the outlier. The war will therefore continue until we either capitulate or decide to win. Meanwhile the destructiveness of the weapons available to our enemies increases geometrically.

  3. Bravo, David!

    My initial thought when the news broke was that any decent society would have executed the SOB long ago, thus preventing the transnational elite self-aggrandizers from just this kind of antic.

    Of course, OTOH, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed still sleeps in a bed so maybe we have no room to throw stones.

  4. There are two questions here. One is how to treat terrorists when we catch them. I agree that this Libyan fellow should have been executed and that in general we do better to kill these people rather than imprison them. The other, bigger, question is whether to treat terrorist attacks as isolated incidents — crimes — or as attacks in an ongoing war. That is the question that we have often evaded to our great cost. Our main response to Lockerbie should have been a military one against the bombers’ sponsor, and if possible against the sponsor’s family members. Jailing or even executing the henchman is a necessary but not a sufficient action.

  5. While, Jonathan, I find your idea of murdering the family members a normal reaction, I’m also pretty disturbed by it.

    Such reactions have been human nature – you and yours, we say, out of fear that the same madness may appear in their children who might attack ours. But, most of us push such thoughts back. Still, pushing them back may mean we have lost the ability to distinguish between actors and acts that are terrible (say rape or murder in the enactment of a robbery) and those that are beyond the pale. (Imprisonment and even capital punishment do not seem inappropriate for the former – but what about the latter?)

    Do we even still have the concept, beyond the pale? My husband always used it when he was defending – ambivalently – capital punishment. His argument was less that someone deserved it than that society needed it: it needed to define what it would not accept – a person that could no longer live within it, even if in prison. That was in coversations about those terrible sadists any society produces. But terrorists are products of a society that is, itself, beyond the pale, of what we consider civilization. Surely it was the recognition of such truths about Saddam Hussein, a recognition of the dishonesty of Arafat that led to some of the policy decisions in an earlier administration.

    Our society seems to recognize no borders; the stakes that define them, many would argue, are in our imagination. They took thousands of years to define and defend – and now, in a couple of generations, they are lost in a fog.

  6. The terror sponsors are dictatorships and typically insensitive to pressures other than on the leaders’ personal interests. If we’re going to retaliate for terror attacks, I think it’s more moral to target the leaders and their families as opposed to the general population or even the military. Or we could avoid retaliation, in which case the price will be paid by innocent people elsewhere when there are further terror attacks. There are only bad and less-bad options. I don’t see why making the people responsible for terrorism, and their families, personally accountable is beyond the pale while attacking the terror-sponsoring countries in ways that get uninvolved people killed is the default response.

    If you are under attack, at some point you have to decide to defeat your attacker or risk worse problems in the future. One problem with not trying to win is that you might encourage more attacks. Another problem is that sooner or later your attacker might score a big enough hit against you to make a strategy of non-response politically untenable for your side. Then a lot more people will get killed.

  7. The guy in Lockerbie should have served the rest of his life sentence, and I am foursquare behind keeping the prisoners at Gitmo locked up for as long as it takes to win the war. I agree with CIA hit squads hunting down terror leaders and shooting them on sight, and of couse, I fully support the military efforts and hope they get ’em all.

    But execute prisoners? We can’t have it both ways – if this is a war, then the terrorists are prisoners of war and should be treated thus. If this is a criminal matter, then they should be treated as such. We can’t get away with capturing and trying these people under military rules, then sentencing them under the criminal codes. That would be the same thing as executing every captured Luftwaffe pilot and executing them for murdering British civilians during the bombing raids.

    And hunting down and killing the families of terrorists under some theory that they provide moral support, or must be terrorists themselves, or to terrorize the the terrorists? What is that? We want to take the ugliest, furthest beyond the pale aspects of extreme Muslim thinking and adopt it as our own? I don’t think so.

  8. Wasn’t Libya bombed after Lockerbie? I rather think it was so various people in that country suffered, rightly or wrongly. As for executing the guy, we have no capital punishment in this country and, whatever one might think of that, laws cannot be changed to suit one case. Hard cases make bad laws. On the whole, I think he should not have been released but it was largely a judicial decision. The wrong one because it was bound to be used for propaganda purposes. Other decisions of this kind are taken in Scotland all the time.

    I am afraid that during the entire uproar in the States I have been remembering those pictures (have they disappeared from the internet? – I can’t find them) of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinnes standing on the White House front lawn and grinning their heads off, as was President Clinton. How do you think we felt?

  9. I would add that the 1986 retaliation bought us several years of relative quiet from Kaddafi and others.

    And of course the UK has no death penalty. I’m not especially blaming the UK here. As John Bolton pointed out in recent interviews, the US govt foolishly framed the issue as a murder investigation rather than an act of state terrorism. Much of the foolishness that followed might have been prevented if we had treated the attack as what it was. Instead we allowed ourselves to bog down in questions of jurisdiction and evidence. The current controversy about releasing one terrorist is merely the latest act in the farce.

    Many Americans were upset about the feting of Gerry Adams, not to mention Arafat. And now we have Zelaya and whoever will come next. I wish we could do better.

  10. Jonathan,

    Let me make it quite clear: I am not blaming you personally or any of the people I know on this site and elsewhere in the States about American support for the IRA but it needs to be remembered. Also, one of the first things President Bush did, long before 9/11 was to make it clear that Adams et al were no longer welcome in the White House and the party was over for them. Though I suppose NORAID went on.

    I forgot that the Libyan bombing was in 1986. It certainly had the right effect.

    As for the legal rigmarole around Lockerbie, you are right, it was a complete mess and there is still a great deal to come out.

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